David Wells spent 42 of his 64 fruitful years working at the International Paper Columbus Paper Mill, starting there when the then Weyerhaeuser Pulp Mill was under construction in 1980.
He started as an engineer helping build the facility, and once it was complete, kept working there. After Wells passed away in June, the mill wasn’t quite the same.
To honor Wells’ lifelong work, friends and colleagues presented a bench made in his honor during Columbus mill’s 40th anniversary Thursday morning.
Former Mill Engineering Manager Dwayne Robbins was among many Thursday who spoke fondly of the friend he had worked beside since joining the mill in 1990. Robbins said he and Wells worked side by side on several expansion projects over the years right up until the time Robbins retired earlier this year in February.
“In a 42-year career span, David was instrumental in installing a whole lot of stuff around the mill,” Robbins said. “Just about anywhere you go on the mill, if you look around, you’ll see David’s handiwork wherever you are.”
There were 75 people present at the celebration, including IP personnel, local and state leaders.
Weyerhaeuser owned and operated the mill from 1982 to 2016, when Memphis-based IP acquired the facility as part of a $2.2 billion investment into Weyerhaeuser’s pulp business.
According to its website, IP is a leading global producer of renewable fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper products. The Columbus mill, at 4335 Carson Road, employs more than 300 workers to produce fluff, paper grade and specialty pulp products used in diapers, wipes and feminine care products, among other things.
As the mill looks back on 40 years of success, Mill and Modified Fibers Manager David Phillips told The Dispatch he sees a secure future.
“We’re always going to have babies, We’re always going to have old people and always going to have women,” Philips said. “It’s a pretty good market to be in; I think the mill will be here for another 40 years easy.”
The mill doesn’t just focus on maintaining good business, though. Over the past several years, IP has actively participated in area philanthropy.
Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Trip Hairston said the mill was among the first major industries in the area to provide funding for school and community programs like the Monroe County Robotics Club, donating $70,000 a year to support literacy and other programs like environmental learning. IP has also hosted the United Way of Lowndes and Noxubee charity golf tournament for the last four years.
“These are the types of things that go on here every day,” Hairston said. “You want to talk about building a community. That is building that community.”
IP also invited Vice-President of Product Development and Innovation and former mill manager Kent Walker to speak about his time there and the many strides he and his team made over his 17-year-long tenure.
“I want to say thank you to our team members and their families who over the years put their blood, sweat and tears into making this outstanding achievement possible,” Walker said. “Looking back, I was blessed to be associated with the Columbus mill for almost half my working career.”
Just as the mill is known as one of Columbus’ oldest and longest-standing businesses, so too will the memory of Wells remain ingrained in the hearts and minds of the mill workforce and retired colleagues.
“That’s (the bench) dedicated to David and all his contributions over the 42 years with the mill,” Robbins said. “We get a chance to go sit on David’s bench and take a moment to reflect and maybe remember David and his time out here.”